UK museums team up to display treasures in global user-friendly web exhibition

British Museum leads development of World Timelines project.

British Museum leads development of World Timelines project.

The British Museum is about to go live with a web-based exhibition to enable visitors from around the world to view artefacts from its collection and 12 other UK museums.

The World Timelines exhibition, developed with £900,000 from the Government's Capital Modernisation Fund, aims to engage visitors from around the world with artefacts and information that they might not otherwise have access to. Users can access areas of interest through clickable interactive timelines.

The key technology challenge was to create an interface that made all the artefacts and references easily accessible to the user in ways that stimulate exploration and make the connections intuitive. This meant that an effective user interface and a robust content delivery system were vital.

Matthew Cock, project manager for World Timelines at the British Museum, said, "We have a project manager, an editor, and two designers working on the project. The design of the site has been a collaborative effort, with numerous design workshops and meetings to develop the site from concept, through prototyping and testing to finished architecture and visual designs."

The museum awarded development contracts to Line Communications and its technology partner Simulacra. Line helped the museum to develop and design the web content, and Simulacra provided its Harmonise content delivery software, which can run on a range of operating systems, including Solaris and Windows.

The website will divide the globe into regions which can each be drilled down into to find particularly periods of history.

Cock said Line was chosen after a lengthy selection process that saw more than 60 initial expressions of interest. "As well as offering a strong technical solution, we were impressed by their creative approach to solving the tricky problem of presenting timelines on a website," he said.

Tom Scott, research and development manager at Simulacra, said the main technology challenge was the management of thousands of meta-objects (code in a database to make web searching easier) within a system that makes them instantly accessible.

"To encourage people to pull the information out of the system, according to their own interests and agenda - rather than push the information out of the system, according to someone else's hierarchy - requires an advanced system that will catalogue, store and deliver anything from the collection on demand and in context," he said.

Andrew Joly, Line' s director of production, said, "From the design aspect, this project is all about helping the viewer make relevant relationships between objects in the quickest and most intuitive way. These relationships can be chronological, thematic or geographical. The point is that the design must make these relationships instantly clear, enabling the viewer to use the navigational tools intuitively."

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